How to stay motivated while working late (plus tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Professionals in the corporate world often work beyond their set hours to finish any remaining tasks and meet employer expectations. While there's nothing wrong with this, it sometimes results in burnout and demotivation, which affects your productivity and output. An easy way for you to avoid this is to learn how to stay motivated when working long hours. In this article, we discuss what working late is and detail how to stay motivated during this time, with some tips for surviving a late night of work.

What is working late?

Working late simply refers to any ordinary work completed or performed after set hours, usually after 7 p.m. Employees who work late tend to stay in the office past regular hours to meet urgent deadlines and work on pressing projects. If you're in a position where you occasionally work late, setting up some guidelines to help you remain motivated and encouraged is essential. This way, you get more work done and only work late on special occasions.

Related: How to get motivated at work and reduce stress in 10 steps

How to stay motivated when you work late

Here's how to stay motivated when you work late in eight steps:

1. Plan your tasks

The first step to staying motivated when you work late is planning out your tasks. Planning gives your late working hours structure, ensuring you stay on track and complete all your pending projects. Make a list of all your remaining tasks, starting with the most important ones. Your to-do list goes a long way in sparking your motivation and making you feel better and more productive.

Related: What is productivity planning and how can it help you?

2. Break everything into small steps

When making lists, divide each task into smaller, more doable tasks. When you have quick, little things to accomplish, it's easier to be productive and stay motivated. It also makes tasks seem a lot less overwhelming, minimising your stress. Go through your list and break down each job into a series of short tasks. This way, you may cross off each short task you complete and get a dopamine boost.

3. Set time limits for your tasks

Once you write down your list of tasks and break them down into smaller jobs, set time limits for each task. Setting time limits for each task helps you block out distractions to get more done in less time. Designate a certain amount of time for every assignment, depending on the complexity and nature of the job. Some tasks may require more time to complete, while others only require a few minutes. It's up to you to decide how long a job may take, but try to allocate enough time for every task.

4. Create a motivating work playlist

Before you start working on your late-night tasks, create a motivating playlist. A motivating playlist helps you get in the right mindset for work, pushing you through challenging and demanding jobs. It may also help you feel more relaxed and get more work done. Curate a list of songs you like, whether they're generic or chosen specifically. Ensure the songs aren't too distracting so that they form a background to your work. Some examples of music that increase focus include:

  • classical music

  • ambient music

  • video game music

  • music infused with nature sounds

  • lo-fi music

Related: How to use music for motivation (including examples)

5. Get comfortable

Whether you work late from home or stay in the office, get comfortable before starting work again. Getting comfortable works wonders for your motivation, encouraging you to complete more tasks. The more comfortable you are, the more work you complete without feeling unmotivated and uninspired. Some tips to help you get more comfortable include:

At home

Since you've been working all day in formal or official attire, change into different clothes, preferably casual. This helps you feel more relaxed, which increases your focus. Wear your pyjamas or favourite hoodie and sweat pants, and make yourself a cup of tea to warm you up as you work. There are no rules as to what you can or can't wear at home as long as you're comfortable in it. Consider also using ambient lighting to increase your comfort.

In the office

While you might not be able to change your outfit when in the office, implement other strategies to increase your comfort. For instance, find a new spot to sit in instead of your usual workspace. This may be the lounge area, the conference room or the shared working space. Set your office air conditioning to satisfactory temperatures. If you spend all day standing, try working sitting down or vice versa. Another way to reduce discomfort in the office is to control noise levels.

6. Start working

After choosing your playlist and getting comfortable, start working on your pending tasks. Follow your list carefully, checking off items once you complete them. If you complete a task before the allocated time, use the opportunity to start working on the next job on your list. When working, block out all distractions that negatively impact your motivation. For example, switch off your phone and turn off your email notifications. Wear noise-cancelling headphones to increase your focus.

Related: How to be self-motivated (with steps, tips and an example)

7. Take breaks

Once you start working on your remaining tasks, remember to take breaks. Taking breaks between tasks helps you rejuvenate and re-energise when you're struggling mentally with work. Even a simple five-minute walk to the office cafeteria clears your mind, ensuring you get back to work feeling more motivated and encouraged. As a general rule, take a break after completing a task on your list. The break may not be long, but simply a time away from thinking about your job. Do some stretches, eat a snack or talk to another employee.

8. Review your progress

As you work on urgent tasks and pressing projects, review your progress. Reviewing your progress boosts your confidence and helps you recognise your accomplishments. This is deeply encouraging, motivating you to continue working on your list of tasks. Audit outstanding tasks and acknowledge the completion of other tasks. This way, you gain clarity on what's still to do and a sense of accomplishment.

Related: 80 motivational quotes to help you stay motivated at work

Tips for when you work late

Here are some valuable tips to help you stay motivated when you work late:

Consider what you're drinking or eating

Most professionals turn to caffeine and energy drinks when they work late to keep them going throughout the night. While there's nothing wrong with this, such drinks may make you feel nervous and jittery if consumed in large amounts. This adversely affects your productivity and makes you feel less focused. Try to cut back on these drinks when you work late and stick to water. Steer clear of processed foods high in sugar, as they may leave you feeling irritable and groggy.

Know your limits and stick to them

Understanding your professional limits is key to remaining productive and motivated in the workplace. For instance, you deserve a break to recharge and unwind if you work late for four consecutive nights. You function better when you get a full night's sleep. Limit yourself to only a few long shifts per week, preferably two to three nights, so you spend more time resting.

Implement rewards

A great way to motivate yourself to complete your to-do list is to implement rewards when you work late. This may be anything from enjoying a dessert at the end of the workday to spending some time doing something you love. Simply enjoying your favourite meal may help you replenish your body and mind before returning to work the next day. Other examples of rewards include:

  • sleeping in the next day if possible

  • having a hot bath with a good book

  • enjoying a magazine with a coffee

  • savouring a nice glass of wine

  • watching a film or TV programme

Plan ahead

Planning your work schedule frees up more time for the following day. For instance, if you have five meetings to attend during the week, try to complete tasks you might not have time to do when you work late. Take time in the evening, at night or in the morning to prepare a list of all your tasks for the next day. Identify what you might complete and work on them to free up your schedule for the next day.

Explore more articles